Tree Removal

The Whatcom County Council has adopted regulations which minimize the allowable amount of tree canopy removal in the Lake Whatcom, Lake Samish, and Lake Padden watersheds. These regulations are intended to minimize stormwater impacts from development in these watersheds of significance. Tree canopy removal is divided into two categories: tree canopy removal that is not associated with a development proposal and tree canopy removal that is associated with a development proposal.

If trees are to be removed as part of a development permit, tree removal information will be required with the applicable development permit. A tree retention plan will be required to be submitted with the applicable development permit.

Tree Canopy Removal Not Associated with Development:

(Lake Whatcom – WCC 20.51.430. Lake Samish/Lake Padden – WCC 20.71.354)

1. A Significant Tree is defined as any evergreen tree 12 inches or greater in diameter at breast height (DBH) or deciduous tree 8 inches or greater DBH. Diameter at breast height shall be measured four and one-half feet above existing grade.

2. Tree removal within Shoreline Management Plan Jurisdiction or Critical Areas/buffers may require alternate permits. Please contact staff to determine the correct permit path.

  • The amount of allowed tree canopy removal not associated with development is as follows:

1. Up to 20% of the tree canopy that existed as of January 1, 2017, may be removed. However, the total tree canopy removal shall not exceed 14,000 sq. ft. This amount is cumulative over time. Incremental tree removal will count towards the total allowed amount.

Tree Canopy Removal Associated with Development:

(Lake Whatcom – WCC 20.51.440. Lake Samish/Lake Padden – WCC 20.71.356)

  • Any development proposal, including land disturbing activities, is required to demonstrate that tree canopy removal is minimized as follows:

1. Development may only remove up to a certain percentage of tree canopy that existed as of January 1, 2017, based on parcel size (see table on the following page) or 5,000 square feet of that tree canopy that existed as of January 1, 2017, whichever is greater. 

Table 20.51.440(3):

Lot Size (acres)Canopy Removal Allowance
(percentage of existing canopy)
Less than 135%
1 to less than 330%
3 to less than 1020%
10 or greater    15%

2. All development permits are required to submit a tree retention plan which shows standard site plan information (see the applicable permit application) along with the tree canopy areas to be removed, the tree canopy areas to be retained, tree canopy removal calculations, and applicable tree protection measures.   

For different ways to measure tree canopy, please refer to the handout entitled “How to Measure Tree Canopy”.